In Competition and Festival, A Lackluster New Tournament Arc Keeps Me Struggling (Chapter 106)

Heyo, and welcome to my read-through of Bakuman Chapter 106: Competition and Festival, in which a new Tournament Arc leads me to discuss a pet theory.

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Competition and Festival Summary

Manga. Is. Art.

Picking up directly after the last chapter, Shujin promises to make a manga the Shiratori family can be proud of. Moriya(?) surprisingly, comes in with the clutch, pointing out Shiratori has the real stuff and will be a great mangaka, surprising Shun.

Competition and Festival Moriya defends manga as art.

Saiko points out he’s learned about being an artist from Shun, and Shujin promises to make him a fearsome mangaka anyone would be proud of.

Shiratori’s mother glares at them. She then exclaims that it’d be less shameful if he were an unknown painter rather than a mangaka.

Goddamn, what a hoe.

Kaya correctly observes that Shiratori’s Mother won’t be convinced. Then Moriya(?) comes in with the clutch again: Manga isn’t rubbish. It’s a reputable art form. Unlike painting, it can connect with the young and has the unique ability to capture the heart. All of Moriya’s work is art.

Shiratori’s Mother doesn’t think so: it’s merely mass entertainment with no refinement.

Goddamn, what a hoe^2

Moriya has an existential crisis and is taken out. Hitomi defends manga. Not all of it is dumb; she’s read Slam Dunk and Rurouni Kenshin behind her back. Shiratori’s Mother clutches her pearls, and Shun is surprised.

Hitomi then asks whether her mother even reads the manga Shun produced. Her mother still thinks it’s just manga, but both Hitomi and their father think it is good. Hitomi also goes further: Shun wouldn’t go against Mommy if he really didn’t mean it. He was even willing to strike out on his own.

Shun then confirms what Hitomi has said. It’s the reason he’s on his own. He even threatens to cut ties with the family if they don’t respect him.

Hitomi stops him before all of that and mentions that regardless of what happens when you give up, the game is over—a Slam Dunk quote.

Everyone liked that.

His mother is confused and upset and ultimately lets him do what he wants to save face. She asks her family to leave with her, and Shiratori’s father asks for the Ashirogi team to take care of Shun. Hitomi also wants Shun to do more than cursory visits for the holidays. Shun agrees.

Everyone’s relieved after they leave and celebrate. Orihara’s shocked, Moriya’s developed serious vibes for Hitomi (hoo boy), and Shiratori promises to do his best and give it the old college ganbatte,. Shujin joins him on that promise to make Loveta & Peace a hit. He wants to surprise Shiratori’s mom with it.

Shiratori’s glad but thinks they should just focus on making the readers happy.

A Shock for Hiramaru

At Hiramaru’s studio, Yoshida has some “good” news. Hiramaru ain’t having it; he finds a raggedy cough to get out of work, but Yoshida lets him take it for realsies.

After four years, Hiramaru can finally have a break–

Yoshida goes further; he can even spend that time with Aoki. Hiramaru is over the moon with this unexpectedly joyous news. Was a tropical island getaway set up for him? It’s a dream come true.

Nope. The serialization meeting happened, and Otter No. 11 is getting a permanent break. It takes Hiramaru a second to pick up the meaning, but:

Hiramaru is canceled, much to his shock. Shikamaru wants to know how Aoki factors into this. Time of Greenery is stuck in a rut and is also facing the axe. Hiramaru thinks quickly about figuring out how long he can go without working and take a break. He sags at the notion of finding a job or working on a, ugh, new series.

Yoshida thinks the quiet part out loud about how difficult it will be to start a new series.

With that in mind, Yoshida lets him know that a new tournament arc one-shot reader contest, the Super Readers Fest, with one-shots written by popular mangaka, is coming up in April. Yoshida commands him to enter, not request.

Hiramaru doesn’t vibe with that plan since he’s going to take two years off. Then, look for an easy job and rake in cash. Yoshida mentions that Aoki is involved, and Hiramaru perks up. Yoshida explains it’s an opportunity for him to prey on Aoki’s sadness at being canceled and win her love.

There it fucking is. Jesus.

Hiramaru, the fucking rube that he is, agrees that he’s read that in a magazine. Yoshida goes in for the kill: THIS IS THE ONLY WAY TO WIN HER HEART BEFORE SOMEONE ELSE COMES FOR HER.

Hiramaru must make the first move. Yoshida reminds Hiramaru that he has Aoki’s number. Yoshida, the scumbag, whispers in his ear that he must call her, give her the ol’ ganbatte, and work together on our new one-shots. Hiarmaru falls for it. Yoshida goes in for the kill. Both being canceled gives Hiramaru the advantage.

Hirmaru calls Aoki and, anxiously, but surprisingly genuinely wishes for them to work hard. Aoki is resigned to this fact; she is, however, surprised by his optoimistm and finds it refreshing. She apologizes for leaving his tea party so quickly; since they’re both canceled, they might go out to tea sometime.

Hiramaru is through the roof at the invitation, and Yoshida—seriously— is shocked that that actually worked. Yoshida orders him to write the final chapters and the one-shot, and Yoshida will write the script for the tea party.

Hiramaru is ready to go.

Training and News

On Thursday, Shujin is going over Loveta and Peace’s story with Shiratori: the plot involves Loveta and Peace running away, saving a girl, and then staying at the girl’s house. Kaya prepares hot chocolate and asks whether Hattori will be coming over for the meeting. She decides to leave.

Shujin sees Saiko’s drawing and wonders why. Saiko shows him two drawings of the same girl. One using his usual technique and one using Shiratori’s. he wants to know which is better.

Shujin notices the differences with the Shiratori method. It only took half the time of a usual page but he can’t make it balance right. Shujin’s surprised by the speed, but Saiko’s less confident: if he can’t do it right, then it’s meaningless.

Shujin disagrees on one point: the hair looks better.

Saiko’s surprised by that and recognizes that with this new technique, the lines come off more natural, and it’s less time-consuming.

At that moment, Hattori arrives.

Shujin lets him know that he’s agreed to work on Loveta. Hattori uses the agreement to mention the Super Readers Fest to the boys. He also mentions that Hiramaru and Aoki are joining. For them, it’s to give them potential serialization. Most mangaka are too busy to do a one-shot, so they’re short on participants.

The only two currently involved are Arai and Nizuma.

The boys are shocked that nizuma is also doing a one-shot, but Hattori isn’t shocked, given how Nizuma do what Nizuma do. He’s excited about it.

Meanwhile with Nizuma

Yujiro talks with Eiji at his studio. Crow is consistently in the top three, and +Natural has settled between 4th and 7th. Eiji tells him he wants to try something new, something he’s never done before.

Yujiro’s excited at the prospect and the idea fo Eiji potentially doing three series, but he realizes that is physically impossible. Eiji promises to show the storyboards once he’s done. He wants to compete.

Iwase also wants to compete after hearing that Eiji is entering from Miura. Miura tries to talk her off the ledge: He just wants her to submit the story on time because of Eiji, not to compete with him. He also reminds her that she needs an artist to compete.

She tells him to scout one out. Lol.

Miura’s not sure she’ll finish one in time, but Iwase is adamant: She’s entering. She doesn’t bury the lede either: she asks about Shujin’s work on Loveta. Miura confirms the news, but Hattori is the one running the show on that front.

That only fires up Iwase more, and the votes she wins from the competition will lead to her getting a second series.

Jesus Christ.

A bedraggled Miura asks Aida if it’s okay. He’s fine with it as long as she can find an artist.

The Boy’s Decision

Saiko begs Hattori to let him enter the one-shot event. Hattori points out that with Shujin working on PCP and Loveta, he won’t have time to work on a one-shot.

Shujin remembers Saiko’s idea to start a series on his own. He sees that this is why Saiko is pushing his drawing and trying to enter it.

Shujin asks to join the Super Readers Fest as well.

Thunk.

Hattori had a hunch they would do this, but due to their popularity, there is literally nothing to be gained from doing this since we’re over the major hump of the story, and now things are in a bit of stalling pattern before the conclusion.

Hattori reiterates that Hiramaru and Aoki are both trying to get serialized again, and Arai’s series is on the rocks. This isn’t a typical one-shot event. The work is decided beforehand who will run so that each author can make the best story possible. Given their other responsibilities, it will make no sense for them to also do this since they can’t commit all their resources to it.

Creating something half-hearted will only harm their reputation at this point.

Saiko disagrees; they’re not famous enough to lose anything here. Any opportunity for a new piece should be taken no matter what. Hattori points out Shujin’s responsibility, and Saiko offers to go it alone.

Shujin is adamant about joining the fray, and he also points out that, were it not for Loveta, Hattori would have no problem with it.

Shujin sides with his Nakama Saiko; He wants to work and do what Saiko wants, and if he overlooked this, he’d be putting Loveta over Saiko. He wants to remain Muto Ashirogi first and foremost.

Hattori closes his eyes and sees the logic.

He agrees to let them join the Super Readers Fest.

They thank him as the chapter ends.

Competition and Festival Reaction

Narrative Half-Life: A Brief Dissertation

This chapter was…uhhh, good, actually, I enjoyed many moments from it a lot, some of these things got a legit chuckle out of me. But at the same time, this series is now firmly in a mild rut because we are past the narrative half-life, and now they either have to rehash things or come up with increasingly zany antics to keep audience interest alive.

A fact that is *especially* true for Bakuman because, unlike, say Naruto or One Piece, or a large-scale series where you can have a variety of interesting conflicts, Bakuman has to rely on novel interactions within a tiny world where physical confrontation is less interesting than it would be otherwise, and in some ways is actively detrimental.

So we’ve hit what I have so cleverly termed “Narrative Half-Life.”

Now, in Nuclear Physics Jargon, half-life has a very different meaning, and if you’re valve, where is Half-Life 3? Am sad.

However, Half-Life is a way to measure the decay of a chemical compound by measuring how long it takes to reach halfway through its lifespan. This is practical in the study of the natural world for reasons I struggle to articulate because I’m not a scientist; I run a silly little blog devoted to reading a single manga and talking about it.

But I’ve cogitated on Narrative Half-Life in Film Shcool. The idea is that every story has an amount of narrative time that can elapse before certain conflicts have decayed past their point of interest. It is contingent and genre and structure.

So, for example, I think the Narrative Half-Life of a prestige television drama, is about 3 to 4 seasons, at least in the West. I say that because as the story progresses, the narrative will resolve early conflicts and introduce new, hopefully compelling, issues down the line.

But this is why I call it half-life: the amount of interest you can generate with additional conflicts diminishes over time as the narrative addresses more existential issues early on.

It’s similar to how the most satisfying part of weight loss or muscle gain. In the early phases it’s really exciting to see large amounts of weight fall off, but eventually you will hit a set point where it takes exponentially longer to make less existential gains.

And for Narrative, this spells death because if you can’t maintain audience interest in a way that feels existential, you’ll get canned, or you’ll commit artistic suicide trying to come up with increasingly high-stakes ways of dealing with the problem.

So you either choose to enter the endgame, wrap up your story by a certain point, or drag it into oblivion. Or you just reuse plot points from previous arcs that were interesting then but are now significantly less so because they’ve already been dealt with.

I’ve talked about it in previous posts, but I feel it here, most of all. Because….

The Super Readers Fest is an obvious re-tread.

I know people love tournament arcs, but this has to be one of the most obviously manufactured to generate narrative momentum arcs I’ve gotten to yet. We’ve had, what, like, five of these arcs already? And they were interesting early on because they had a practical impact on the narrative. And I guess they still technically do because, like, PCP ain’t getting anime or some shit. But holy fuck, it does not feel like it.

Becauser, you know, PCP is also successful. It really undercuts the necessity of even having this competition. The story even acknowledges this is silly.

We know Eiji and Iwase will be in it, but it is also out of the usual rankings, so we know it’s ultimately a pretty low-stakes endeavor. It’s unclear whether Saiko will even be able to make it.

This is, perhaps, the one saving grace about this arc, and *it might* make it interesting.

Saiko’s Mangaka Development

This is, in many ways, an arc to develop Saiko as a mangaka, which, surprisingly, has not been a huge focus of the series overall. It’s important, yes, but we’ve never seen him have a major existential approach to improving his art outside of the early chapters when he was learning how to draw for manga, which was obviously satisfying because it Showed Hattori that he was willing to grow.

And I’m not going to lie, I get off, hard, on arcs where a character refines their technique to be even better, and seeing Saiko experiment – mercifully unsuccessfully, I might add – with Shiratori’s method was very, very satisfying to witness, especially since he’s already so top-tier. It’s an excellent way to show that he’s growing as a person and artist, without being existential.

HOWEVER.

Shujin Agreeing To Too Much

This feels like one of those plot points that is engineered, and I’ve commented about the Loveta stuff feeling like an intentional wedge issue to keep interest up. But we also had this happen early on, like 20ish chapters in. And so it doesn’t have the same flavor. It’s just a way to keep the boys in friction and keep them moving.

It’s also setting up Saiko’s first solo effort, which is potentially interesting, and actually, a nice conflict for the story to engage in, especially in consideration of what I’ve said about Saiko being the actual protagonist, but I dunno, I see the machinery, and it’s not just because I study this shit for the funsies.

The narrative machinery is coming undone in a way that isn’t metafictional and intentional. And I don’t like it.

And I’ve devoted a lot of words to my displeasure, especially when you consider two other huge things that happened in this chapter or haven’t even talked about.

Shiratori’s COnfrontation

Look, it was bait. I get it. It was obviously going to happen, but it was also very satisfying to see the resolution of the manga. Is it art, actually? The debate more or less concluded so forcefully.

And from a manga agnostic, no less. It was a legitimately nice touch to have Hitomi come in with the save to point out the value of manga and use a freaking Slam Dunk quote, no less. I also didn’t mention it, but Moriya’s immediate infatuation with Hitomi was ever so real and ever so delightful.

And I was also thrilled with the opening sequence for a much different, but no less important reason: we are finally through the Shiratori’s independence mini-arc that has been very, very, very boring to me personally, which means, hopefully, that we will move onto something more interesting in the future.

I did also like seeing the family rally around Shiratori because I am a sucker for those types of moments, so to see it all play out very nice. The dad in particular was a nice callback. And in general, this was a solid resolution to this arc.

The messier thing, by far, would be:

Yoshida and Hiramaru’s antics

I’m of two minds on this bit at this point. I was genuinely surprised to see Hiramaru getting canceled. It was, admittedly, hysterical to see Hiramaru actually process the rejection, in addition to the way Yoshida framed it as a permanent vacation. But…

The stuff with Aoki continues to bother me.

Now, in the interest of fairness, I’m less bothered by Hiramaru’s participation in this little bit than I am by Yoshida, who is, by all accounts, a fucking monster. And the fact that he knows how to manipulate Hiramaru so cannily and ruthlessly makes me shudder. And the fact that he’s so relentlessly pursuing manga that he’d go through with it – even though at this point Hiramaru’s in on the joke to a degree – is just gross.

However, part of me found the call to Aoki, however fucked and wrongheaded it was, a pretty cute little moment. Especially when you consider that Hiramaru seems at least a little earnest in telling her his goals. It does seem like a real – if small – development in their relationship.

Would I prefer that Hiramaru actually do something on his own in this regard? Well, just see….the whole ass read-through and my comments and Saiko for the answer to this one.

Would I prefer Yoshida not to be a creepazoid? Yup.

But this is something, and I’ll take it. And we’re getting into the Super Reader’s Fest.

What will it bring? I’m not sure what Eiji can do that he hasn’t already successfully done. Maybe he’ll try a slice of life or something; that’d be pretty interesting.

But more importantly, will Saiko succeed at this one-shot? Totally unclear. But I assume he will take control of it, plot manipulations notwithstanding.

I guess we’ll just have to see

Until next time

Peace

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